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Job Hunt Stories: How I Got My First Global Health Job

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This is part of a series on finding your first job.

In September 2009, I was going into the final semester of my masters of public health in Boston. I’d taken in words of wisdom from advisers, friends, mentors and others who were kind enough to grant me informational interviews. So I set out to achieve the often elusive final accomplishment of grad school: getting a job.

While some of my peers were graduating with a masters and years of previous work experience, I went directly from  undergrad to my MPH. I’d interned, done field work and tried to tailor my classes to give me concrete skills, rather than paying over $1,000 a credit hour to read papers I could access through PubMed. I set my sights on some sort of realistic, entry-level position, though I didn’t shy away from applying to some of the “five to seven years of experience” postings.

I applied to countless postings online for different global health consulting firms. I trolled through USAJobs and Avue Central (someone told me once she got her job via a blind application to USA Jobs, which gave me hope… I now realize I had met the tooth fairy of successful job seekers), and reorganized my resume to hit as many “hot words” as I could.

At the same time, I did what I think I do best: I reached out to people. And while I was hearing radio silence from all of the online resume landfills in the Internet where I applied to jobs, I got at least intermittent responses via e-mail. Most supportive, some a bit snarky and others that encouraged me to resign myself to unpaid volunteer work for at least a year to get more experience.

I persevered though. I sent three new e-mails each week to anyone (and I mean, literally, anyone). I looked for contacts in my undergrad and sorority alumni groups, talked to career advisers on campus and went to networking events. Then one day, I sent what had to have been at least the 68th “I’m interested in global health work, have any suggestions?” message, I got some really good news. A specific position I was qualified for was open and I had been asked to interview.

After a phone interview, a second interview in person and a little bit of anxious waiting, I got a job offer. A great job offer. I was (technically) under-qualified for the position based on years of experience. But I was enthusiastic, had a willingness to learn, and I apparently struck my coworkers as someone they would like to have around the office. My personality was one of my biggest selling points, they later told me.

Almost a year and a half later, I’m still working for the same fantastic company. I changed projects after the first project I was assigned to ended.

Here is what I hope new grads looking for their first job will take from my story: talk to people (some people call it networking). But really it’s just talking to people. They are your greatest resource and will be able to speak to you as a person, not a piece of paper. People will recognize your talent. Your personality can be your greatest asset, and it’s okay to be honest about your shortcomings. If you’re a quick learner and eager to pick up new skills, point that out.

Someone will take a chance on you. Finding my first job, took months of applications and dozens of emails. You have to keep at it. You never know who might see something in you that resonates.  The man who got me that interview was my boss and project director for over a year; my coworkers on that project became my dear friends. And when they needed someone to fill my position on the new project , they hired  a young woman I recommended – I sincerely believe in paying it forward.

So let my tale be one to give you hope, and if you ever need a pep talk, just let me know. I’ve been there.

Amanda Makulec works on a large USAID-funded maternal and child health project. She also volunteers as the Washington, D.C. regional director for One Home Many Hopes, and she is an avid cook and CulinAerie volunteer. Check out her blog for more information.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Sharmilee

    Greetings! My name is Sharmilee and I recently joined Brazen Careerist. I am quite literally in the same shoes as you were at the beginning of your post-a recent MPH graduate with almost no experience. If you have the time, I’d really like to talk to you more and get some ideas. Do drop me a line at:sharmilee.kannan@gmail.com

  • http://twitter.com/JarodBillingsle Jarod Billingslea

    Great story. I actually got a taste of this the other day when looking for work via my friends. They actually were able to get me a LOT of people, which was more than I could have possibly imagined.

    Talking to people, or networking, is the best thing ever when it comes to business. I literally suggest that too.

  • http://twitter.com/JarodBillingsle Jarod Billingslea

    Also, drop me a line too Amanda. It would be very pleasing to talk with you. Send me an e-mail at thejaydawg@gmail.com

  • http://parisianfeline.wordpress.com Tatiana

    I agree that perseverance is really important when job hunting. It is tempting to apply and never call or inquire about your application. I’ve experienced this with AmeriCorps. At first I just sat back and waited, but then realized that these positions go very quickly so I had to be pro-active. I’ve managed to talk to several people, send my resume/CV to others and have an interview next week.

    So, it’s not even just about networking, but getting the chance to speak to the people at the place you want to work at. But I suppose this is a lot easier at small organizations or retail stores where the Manager is there frequently and you can bond with your future co-workers.

  • http://twitter.com/abmakulec Amanda Makulec

    Thanks for all of the comments, here & via twitter. I’m glad my experiences gave some perspective. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as well as Brazen, and I’m happy to answer any questions. http://www.linkedin.com/in/amandamakulec

  • Iris

    Thanks a lot for your story and encouragement, I think many people out here could use it, especially at a time like this. Best wishes to you all!!

  • http://tcmarthritisremedies.blogspot.com/ Rob

    Thanks for that story. I really needed at this point in time. Thanks again.

  • http://www.smartphonetarifvergleich.de Smartphone

    THis sound like a good plan for a nice job. at the moment i am still satisfied with my job, but perhaps its something for the future

  • Kristen Thompson

    Hi Amanda, I just came across your post while doing research on MPH job opportunities, I was inspired because I have found myself in a similar situation. I just started my MPH at Michigan State University and I would love to get some more information from you, I tried messaging you through linkedIn but I don’t have the correct membership… Can we communicate via email?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681535542 Jakea Moody

    This was a great motivational story and seems closely related to my current career seeking journey. Thank you for sharing. You provided a lot of interesting facts. The one things that stood out was stay persistent and don’t afraid to admit your shortcomings. Congratulations on your many success and again thanks for sharing your story.